Professional skateboarder Na-Kel Smith, the local skater/rapper/street-style star who has a design partnership with Adidas, embodies the vibe of Los Angeles’ cool-kid skate culture.
So it isn’t a surprise that he chose to meet at the Golden State, a cafe on North Fairfax Avenue across from popular skater-centric store Supreme, one of his skate sponsors.
Smith, 22, skated up on a board by a clothing and skateboard brand with an enthusiastic but unprintable adjective before the “Awesome” in its name, another of his sponsors and a company co-founded by legendary skater Jason Dill. Smith donned a Supreme T-shirt bearing the image of cartoon character Betty Boop, and his jeans were cinched with a tough leather belt stamped with the phrase “Don’t Tread On Me” made by friend Ryan Seth Mayle — a contrasting mix of naïveté and toughness not unlike his character.
This spring — perhaps to his surprise — Smith’s name popped up in the news after a video he posted, showing him jumping from a car and doing a 360-degree flip on his skateboard between slow-moving vehicles on the 110 Freeway, went viral and spawned imitators. (Smith later commented on Instagram to his more than 140,000 followers: “This #FreewayChallenge stuff is stupid, and I seriously advise that no one tries it”; he also said the stunt was “very dangerous and only suppose[d] to be a quick joke.”)
And there’s the music. Smith has teamed up with controversial rapper Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, better known as Earl Sweatshirt, under the moniker Hog Slaughta Boyz to perform rap parodies. Smith and Earl Sweatshirt were members of the now-dormant local hip-hop crew Odd Future, led by rapper and fashion designer Tyler, the Creator, that made headlines for its innovative music as well as what many criticized as misogynistic and homophobic lyrics.
“I’m not really a rapper,” Smith said. “I just express myself in many ways, you could say.”
While skating and music are two of his passions, Smith also has a burgeoning interest in fashion. In 2012, a style writer for Complex highlighted Smith as one of the “25 Under 25: The Young Leaders of Style,” saying that Smith “personifies the L.A. skateboarding culture to a T.”
Smith also is a co-designer of skate accessories for apparel brand Hardies Hardware, in partnership with fellow pro-skaters Tyshawn Jones and Kevin Bradley.
“What we’re doing [at Hardies Hardware] is making stuff that we want to wear, that we like. It’s just us doing us,” Smith said, when pressed to describe his look. “My style is just me.”
Recently, Smith locked down an ongoing design collaboration with Adidas, a brand that has sponsored his skating since 2014.
The Adidas white leather Na-Kel Smith Matchcourt Mid sneaker ($80), with the stripe colorway updated by Smith in three shades of blue, debuted July 1 on Adidas’ website and sold out within 12 hours.
For spring 2017, there will be a pink high-top version of the Matchcourt that Smith embellished with a hand-sketched rose motif along with his mother’s rapper name, Suggah B. She was once a member of L.A.-based rap group Urban Prop.
More shoes are in the works.
“I started skating in [Adidas] Nizzas,” Smith said, emphasizing that he is a longtime fan of the brand. “I used to buy them on EBay. [Pro skaters] Jake Donnelly and Lucas Puig wore them, too.”
Asked whether he’s a true sneakerhead, Smith qualified the answer.
“I am, in a sense, because I skate [in] all my shoes and keep them,” he said. “But I’m not out to get the fresh or the best shoes. I’m just out to get the shoes that I like and skate them. I have way too many — upwards of a hundred [pairs] for sure.”
Hardies Hardware logo T-shirts have consistently sold out at the local Supreme store, according to an employee, and the brand is now a partner with Adidas on a collaborative collection that will hit stores in early 2017.
In the meantime, the Hardies Hardware brand is expanding beyond logo-laden items. One of Smith’s favorite additions is a T-shirt bearing the phrase, “What Will You Fight For?”
“Everybody’s answer is different, and that’s why I like the shirt,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure it out myself. When you’re making something, whether it’s clothes or music, it’s usually based on what you are going through in your head — your own personal battles.
“What Hardies means to me is hard work,” he continued, describing the brand’s name. “Hardies is like two for flinching, a game that we played when we were younger, when you sock[ed] someone if they flinch. That’s how the fist on the screw became the logo.”
Though he appears to be on an upswing in his career, Smith recalled his first time on a skateboard, cruising to school in the fifth grade. He said he has come a long way since his early days growing up in South Los Angeles.
“Skateboarding is one of the most positive things in my life,” Smith said, noting that Westchester Skate Plaza near Los Angeles International Airport is a favorite local hangout. “So when I see other kids taking to it, I just try to help keep them involved.”